News In Brief

Voter turnout in israel was slightly ahead of the pace for the last previous national election, in 1996, as the Monitor went to press. Backers of the front-running candidate for prime minister, Labor Party leader Ehud Barak, were predicting a first-round victory. Barak led incumbent Benjamin Netanyahu by 10 points in final opinion polls. But the polls also indicated that neither the Labor Party or Netanyahu's Likud coalition would win more than 25 percent of the seats in parliament.

A 15-member UN delegation in Yugoslavia's capital was preparing to make the first inspection trip into Kosovo since NATO airstrikes began in late March. Meanwhile, in published remarks, Yugoslavia's field commander said NATO ground troops attempting to fight their way into Kosovo would encounter well-prepared defenses and must be prepared for "huge sacrifices."

Although Communists in parliament had yet to say how they'd vote, there were new signs that Russian President Yeltsin's nominee for prime minister will be approved tomorrow. Sergei Stepashin was again courting support among leaders of both houses, pledging aggressive efforts to rescue the economy and crack down on corruption and crime. Early prospects for his approval had looked grim after Yeltsin angered legislators last week by firing his popular predecessor, Yevgeny Primakov.

Efforts to organize India's opposition Congress Party for national elections this fall were in disarray after the abrupt resignation of its leader, Sonia Gandhi. News reports said she quit at a meeting of party elders who were considering complaints that her Italian birth should keep her from seeking the prime ministership. Earlier, Gandhi supporters and opponents had clashed in the streets of Bombay and New Delhi.

Reforms that would have curbed the powers of the Army and granted equal rights to Guat-emala's Maya Indian majority appeared headed for a 2-to-1 defeat in a national referendum. Opponents said the vote - based on partial returns from 21 of 22 provinces - showed little faith in the political parties that are trying to implement the 1996 peace accord between the government and rebels. It ended decades of civil war in which an estimated 200,000 people died.

Police in Amsterdam were questioning an escaped mental patient on suspicion of slashing an abstract Picasso masterpiece valued at up to $7.5 million. "Woman Nude Before Garden" was badly damaged as it hung in the Stedelijk Museum of Modern Art. The incident was the second of its type at the museum in three years. In 1997, another mental patient slashed a canvas by American painter Barnett Newman.

Questions were being raised about the cause of - and slow response to - an explosion and fire in central Pakistan that killed 65 people, injured 75 others, destroyed dozens of buildings and vehicles, and knocked out electricity for an entire district. Reports said the fire from an overturned gasoline truck burned for three hours Sunday before emergency crews arrived. Many of the victims were trying to collect leaking fuel when the fire erupted.

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